Category Archives: SEO

Are you losing to your competitor?

Few years back using my experience in a certain area, I created a piece of software and gave it a name and created a website with the same name and started selling it. It’s a very niche area and the only a small set of the target audience actually seek the solution and pay for it. My software is priced $$ and my sales are single digit. So, the potential is less than a thousand per year. But who knows, with time it could have become a little bit more.

On the contrary, after about an year, things went the other way. Hardly anyone evening contacting to find more info. Yeah the economy had been bad since 2008 and all that, but that’s not the reason for the dismal performance I had. Out of no where, some guy started offering a similar solution for free. People are expected to register a domain name and us his solution by mapping their domain name to his server.

Which is fine. You could say, if someone could offer it for free, why do you think anyone would pay you $$? First, there are some problems with what is being done by that person. I won’t go into those details. But what I don’t think is appropriate is, for that person to optimize his website around my product. He literally used my product name which is very specific and tried doing SEO around it. Given his customers map their domain to his server, he is getting free links back from all these websites to his main site and in the anchor links he even used my product name. So, the theme is “An alternative to xyz” or “An xyz for free” and so on where xyz is my product name.

Only because my product name and my domain name are the same and since Google atleast has the sense of giving a domain name a lot more importance, when someone searches for xyz, my website does come first. But the problem is, the next link in the results is his which says “A free xyz”.

That’s how I got screwed and hardly had any one wanting to purchase my product. The truth of the matter is, there are clear advantages of buying the software, installing it on one’s own server and using it vs mapping one’s domain to a free solution. However, when you are looking at search results, it’s not possible to explain the potential customers what the differences are.

I am not sure how this can be solved by Google or anyone.

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Filed under Google Search, SEO

Online Reputation Defending

Today something interesting happened. I was offered a deal to link to a web page. I checked the web page. It was about someone who was born in the first quarter of the last century. So, why would anyone bother about doing search engine optimization for this man? What’s the need? I was completely baffled.

Then I started my investigation. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out the reason. Now this person’s family follows naming their future generations with the same name but adding those roman numerals like “So and so, the third”. And it turns out, this person’s grand son happened to have gotten some bad news articles. So, when you search for the person, you get web pages for all the three generations. But it so happens, that the bad news is glaringly visible as one of the top posts.

I won’t tell who this person is, I would just provide a few hints for the curious to do their own research. First, the family is rich and publicly known. Before I give the second hint, I want to tell about another interesting thing.

So, the bad news article I am talking about is not like just recently published. It’s almost a year old. Hmm, so why would anyone bother to defend their reputation now? Either they may have done it then, or just don’t bother about it and move on. It may be possible that only recently Google started showing that article higher up. Not sure.

But there was another turn of events that slowly unraveled today in the tech industry. Something that started on Sep 21st concluded on Sep 22nd. It’s significant news for the stock market and the silicon valley. So, in fact, that’s what actually made me to piece together easily.

I know there are companies making money out of getting rid of the bad publicity from the web by doing all these types of SEO techniques. So far I have mostly noticed it for companies. But over the last year or so, the activity seems to be picking up for individuals, especially the rich and public figures with some skeletons in their closets (either for them or their family members).

While I am at this topic, another interesting thing I noticed in this area of “reputation defending” is, one small company is a so called “certified partner” of a very large company and the large company has a page on their website about this partner (they have a directory of their partners and this is one of them, nothing other than that from SEO point for the large company). So, the small company (or the people whom they are working with to improve their image) has chosen to do SEO for their profile page on this large company. This is interesting because, while it may be difficult for a small company to get better SERP even with all SEO techniques, as their website itself may not have a good pagerank, it’s likely to be very easy to get a better pagerank from a larger company. Never mind that there is no link back to this small company, never mind that the large company web page will be showing up when searched by the name of this small company, it’s still OK, I guess. Mainly because, when searched by name, since the domain name has sufficiently large weightage, the first result is likely to be the small company anyway. So, they are just trying to push down some other undesired results off of other websites, by increasing the ranking of another page from a more popular website.

Interesting technique. Black hat? White Hat? I don’t know, I don’t care, I am not in the SEO business myself. But I do like to monitor what’s going on in these areas because, a) just out of curiosity b) I can make sure I am not getting dinged for my websites by others because of this type of techniques.

I am going to write my next post about how I did get screwed by a rogue competitor and there is not much that can be done.

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Filed under Reputation Defending, SEO

SEO? Brand Is Secondary!

Isn’t it all about brand? The more people know about your brand, the better it is. Ins’t it? Corporations take extra effort to protect their brand and image. So, does that mean it applies to you as well, a small business owner, just started off with a website?

Well, the answer is no. Trust me and I will explain why.

I had a small software product and I came up with a very unique and nice name for it. I created a website and optimized the page for my product name. Then, I went to a few blogs that are relevant to my product and offered valuable comments (don’t frown, yes, it’s kind of a spam, but when you promote your website only at the most relevant sites, it is useful to the blog owners as well) and used my product name, the brand, as the name of the commenter and the website url as the url of the commenter, naturally.

With this, I did end up getting a few visitors. Some even searched for the brand now and then. But what next? Beyond that occasional traffic that either came through those comments or searched the brand, there is no organic growth.

In the meanwhile, one good thing happened. The website’s pagerank moved from nothing to a whopping 3! (Yeah, I know, I know, it’s usually no big to reach to a 3 and moving beyond that is a big challenge).

Now, I do have a competitor. When I say competitor, you might immediately think another company that’s probably making a lot of money. Isn’t it? Funny thing is, this guys gives away his software for free. How can you beat the “free offer”? Well, luckily, for me, the product offers superior benefits. Nope, it’s not just me trying to do a sales pitch. Yes, that’s too. But the fact that I have real customers who tried out that “free offer” and moved to my product is a real testimony for my sales pitch.

I waited a few weeks and hoped that my website will eventually get me more traffic, especially with the newly updated pagerank 3. But it wasn’t happening. Then, I realized the mistake I made with my website.

If there are not many people who know about my product, and they don’t know my brand, how would they think of searching for it? I mean, those who grew up with viewsonic monitors may still not be aware that viewsonic offers lcd hdtvs. And you won’t search for what you don’t know. I know, search is all about discovering what you don’t know, I mean, if you know, why search right?

People search because they know what feature or functionality they want in a product, but not necessarily the product itself! Read this again and this is the key. It’s not your product name, it’s the product’s functionality that matters. Yes, it’s the product functionality that people keep searching. So, optimize your website for your product functionality or the services you offer. Not the name of your company or the name of the product.

After this realization, I went and made a few changes to my website, the most important being the title of the website. My product name no longer appears in the title! Instead, it contains the words related to my product functionality. Luckily, there are no other products in my niche except for this free product. But there are several blogs that talk about it. Currently I am positioned 3rd in SERP for the new keywords I optimized for based on the functionality. The first being the free offer and the second being a blog. As you know, Google keeps changing the SERPs a little so that the same website shows up 3rd or 4th sometimes or even lower. It happens for me as well. But first thing is, now I am getting traffic for the right set of keywords and it’s more targeted traffic. While I am yet to see conversions, I see people spending more time on the website. When this happens, you know it’s good. You know, you didn’t just try to trick a search engine. See, people are smart. You can trick a computer, however smart it’s algorithms are, but you can’t trick a real person. In a few seconds of glancing and gazing your website, people will runaway if your site is not really about the keywords you optimized for.

In the closing, I want to point out one thing. While the brand is secondary initially, once a critical mass is acquired, remember to start making the brand also prominent. Usually this may not be necessary, but if there are bigger bloggers and news papers write articles about your product, sometimes they might show up before you. Increasing the pagerank further is the best possible option at this time. So, here is the sequence of steps to follow which might take a few months to years.

  1. Create a website
  2. Write good content on the website. Optimize for the functionality and not brand.
  3. Promote it at a few free places (your own blog, comments on other blogs, free PR sites)
  4. Get traffic. Analyze the traffic. Make sure people are spending more time and even bookmarking for subsequent visits. If they are quickly running away, chances are you are trying to promote wrongly
  5. After a while, after making several sales and others start writing about your product or service, then try to increase your pagerank further.
  6. At this time, try to slowly start promoting the brand as well.

Good luck with the SEO effort!

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Filed under SEO, SEO tips

Free License For Link

In the pre-Google era no one cared about inbound links. Everyone cared about stuffing keywords within their own pages. That has changed due to PageRank. Companies spend a lot of money on online advertising, search engine optimization, link exchange, link submission, blogging and writing articles and even purchasing links. Some of the practices are frowned upon and potentially penalized while the others are genuine and well rewarded.

Here is a new strategy. What if you offer a “lite” version of your product/service for free with the understanding that the receiving party will link to your website? It would even be possible for those non-paying customers to write their experience with your product/service and make it a genuine backlink with appropriate content. Obviously, it’s not possible to offer this type of a transaction for life, so perhaps doing this limited time till you get enough backlinks that boosts your website to a PageRank of 5 or 6. Sounds like a cool strategy isn’t it?

Well, this bright idea is not mine, I just came across at this website. If you are wondering why would anyone want to do this and not just sell their product but spend money on advertising, obviously the reason is to improve visitors through organic search than paid advertising. In the long run who wants to pay Google or other online advertisers especially if the rates are high in some categories?

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Filed under SEO, software startup

PageRank Preserving Page Redirection

I had a few cgi scripts written in perl some of which don’t even have any parameters and hence are ideal for Google indexing. These scripts had .pl as the file extension and some of them already have a PageRank. However, recently I decided I wanted to have a more generic extension for my scripts, typically .do, so that I have the flexibility of changing them to .php or .jsp or .asp or .py or .rb or whatever technology it is. However, in doing this, I wanted to make sure that the PageRank is preserved. In addition, I don’t have control over the various pages from where I have in-bound links to these scripts. So, I still have to continue to support the old links but with the right PageRank (once Google starts recognizing the new pages).

From Giving search engine spiders direction with a 301 redirect I figured preserving PageRank can be achieved through a permanent external redirection. With this, here is how I went about implementing the strategy.

Below is the .htaccess file


RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^(.*).do$ $1.pl [ne]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} ^.*.pl$
RewriteCond %{ENV:REDIRECT_STATUS} !200
RewriteRule ^(.*).pl$ $1.do [R=301,ne]

Now, let me explain each of the above.

The first Rewrite rule makes a file with .do to be replaced to .pl which is the actual file in the system. The ne flag is to make it not do escaping of characters.

The second Rewrite Rule (along with the conditions) indicates that if the request uri is using .pl extension but it’s not an internal redirection (from rule 1), then do an external redirection with status code of 301 (permanent redirect). Note that both conditions are needed, otherwise, the rules would go into infinite loop.

That’s it. I just implemented this strategy today. So, will wait and watch for the PageRank to transfer to the new URLs.

If you have a better and efficient way, please post it in the comments section.

BTW, I also use a hosting solution that provides unlimited domains by mapping an internal sub directory for each hosted domain. So, having the .htaccess in the outer most directory, while works for all the sub-directories accessed from the same host, there is a problem with the virtual hosts mapped to sub-directories. It may be possible to come up with a more complex approach by using RedirectBase and some regular expressions and HTTP variables, but for now, I just copied the same exact code to the sub-directory of the virtual host. I would be interested in a solution that takes care of virtual hosts without having to copy to each virtual host directory.

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Filed under mod_rewrite, pagerank, SEO